The battle to secure third place seemed to be going down to the final week of the season when Liam Buchanan cancelled out Alan McNally’s first-half strike on 46 minutes and Drogheda’s Declan O’Brien was sent off for a second booking after protesting that the goal should have been ruled out, but Mick Cooke’s heroes hung on before striking in dramatic fashion right at the death.
The Boynesiders had a great chance to score inside 30 seconds but Ryan Brennan’s header flew just wide.
The champions hit back on six minutes when Joseph Ndo’s searching pass picked out the onrushing Lee Lynch whose shot was clawed away by keeper Gabriel Sava.
Drogheda went ahead on 31 minutes. From Eric Foley’s corner Alan McNally rose highest to plant a header past Richard Brush.
But in a matter of seconds right at the start of the second half the game turned on its head. Buchanan broke through and shot against the Drogheda post, and when Raffaele Cretaro drilled the ball back towards goal, Buchanan tapped the ball home.
After that Sligo bossed the game, but struggled to prise open Drogheda’s defence. Sava produced a brilliant save to tip over a John Dillon piledriver on 81 minutes. But out of nothing the 10 men snatched a priceless goal when Brian Gannon popped up with a superb curling shot that gave Brush no chance.
DROGHEDA UNITED: Sava; Quigley, McNally, Byrne, Hand; S Brennan , Gannon, Foley (Sullivan, 73), R Brennan; Hynes (Mulvenna 66), O’Brien.
SLIGO ROVERS: Brush; Henderson (Owen, 78), Peers, McGuinness, Gaynor; Ndo, Lynch, Cawley (Dillon, 66), Buchanan (Millien, 78); Cretaro, Connolly.
Referee: Tom Connolly (Dublin).